During my residency in Mustarinda, in September 2020, I have met many trees and performed with some of them in various ways. Only at the end of my stay did I try to write a letter to a spruce, a practice I have experimented with elsewhere. I wrote a small letter to a spruce, in Finnish, and made a video with the text as a voice-over – both the longer version without text Dear Spruce (20 min 15 sec) and the brief version with the spoken text added, Rakas Kuusi (5 min 47 sec) are available on the Research Catalogue, here. (And the text, in Finnish, I added to a blog post, here.) Inspired by this experience I decided, on the last day of my stay in Mustarinda, to go and visit a dead spruce lying on the ground next to the path that I remembered seeing several times while walking there, and decided to try to address the spruce cadaver in English. The full-length video Dear Deceased (20 min 15 sec) and a shorter version with the text added as a spoken voice-over Dear Deceased (with text) (6 min 26 sec) are both available on the Research Catalogue, here. And the text itself, uncensored, can be read here below.
dear deceased or departed, or whatever is the proper term for a respected and beloved dead being – because there is no doubt that you are dead, dead as a spruce, that is. Your body, broken and now separated from the roots, lies on the ground dry and dead like a skeleton, except that you are steaming with life of all forms – insects, fungi, larvae, lichen, microbes, and all the things that I cannot see. And who knows what mice or other furry creatures have nests further up in your former crown? You are clearly serving your community also while dead. I am not sure how you decide whether a tree is dead or not, because some trees are able to grow new roots from their trunk, or at least new branches to form new trunks growing from a trunk fallen on the ground. Perhaps that is not possible for spruces, though. I have never seen one on any of the spruce cadavers, and there are plenty of them in this forest. On the other hand, your roots seem intact, everything below ground, although invisible to me, could be alive, and simply waiting for the right moment to throw some green needles up in the air. Well, deciduous trees are doing that, creating a whole selection of new stems and young trees from the cropped stump, but again probably not the spruces, I’m afraid. And it looks like your wood has been quite thoroughly eaten by insects, perhaps before you even fell to the ground – that could have been one of the reasons that you fell in the first place. Usually the spruces around here seem to fall with their roots open, like losing their grip of the ground in a storm. But you are really broken midway, at the waist, well, at knee height, or wrists would probably be closer, if we use human measurements. – I was attracted to you at first by the huge mushrooms that grow like small parasols from your stump, and then by the intricate forms of your almost bare branches that spread out from the trunk on the ground. Sitting on a corpse, on a cadaver, is morbid of course; and thinking of you as a rotting heap of life, all kinds of creatures busily trying to decompose you to minerals and nutrients, like a giant compost, does not make sitting here more pleasant. In actual fact your trunk seems rather steady and comfortable to sit on, not that different from a wooden bench, despite your rounded form and the slightly irregular, itchy bark. There is a small ant nest (small compared to the giant ones all around here) right at my feet – hopefully they are not disturbed by me, planning a defence attack. The sun is still warm, and it is very quiet, no wind. I wonder how man winters you have already been lying here, not that many, I suppose, but that is hard to know. There is no moss growing on top of you, but that might be simply because your branches keep you raised from the ground. And how many years will it take for you to decompose completely and turn into soil? In some places here you can still see the contours of a tree trunk in the moss, although most of the wood is gone and the moss cover is continuous. You are fertilizing the soil, I guess, whereas a human body decomposing on the ground would excrete poisonous substances, at least that is what I have heard. There is something fascinating in wood being such a living material, although it is clearly part of a dead tree, or a formerly living tree. I imagined I would sit here and think about death and dying, and the value of being able to witness the processes of decay instead of being protected from all such “unpleasant details” by an overly hygienic and artificially maintained almost sterile environment. But instead I am thinking of wood and what a marvellous material it is. – I apologize for disturbing your well-earned rest here in the forest with such human-centred and utilitarian thoughts. And, on the other hand I have to thank you for your generosity, because I like to think that you gave me those thoughts here, in some manner. Thus, many thanks for this moment on your beautiful trunk, and all the best for the coming winter!
Video works in The Telegraph on Harakka Island 15–26 July 2020, noon to 5 pm.
Welcome to the opening on Monday 14 July at 4-6 pm.
The following works are included in the exhibition:
With Elms in Kaivopuisto 1 & 2 (2018)
In 2017, between 10.1. and 17.12., I visited a group of elms in Kaivopuisto Park in Helsinki altogether 101 times. I video recorded and edited these visits into a two-channel installation (1h 41 min 10 sec.), with one-minute images of each visit, here combined as a split-screen version.
With an Alder in Kaivopuisto (2018)
In 2017, between 12.1. and 17.12., I sat on an alder stub in Kaivopuisto park in Helsinki altogether 100 times. I video recorded and edited these sessions into a video (1h 40 min 10 sec) with one-minute images of each session.
With the Maple Tree (Corona Diary) (2020)
During the spring 2020, between 29.3. and 31.5., I performed daily for a video camera with a maple tree in the yard of Tehtaankatu 18 in Helsinki, and edited the performances into a diary of sorts (62 min 22 sec).
The works are linked to the projects Performing with Plants and Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees
Today I started a new work, a performance with Itsenäisyyden kuusi, the Spruce of Independence, in Kaivopuisto Park. I notised it for the first time a few weeks ago, which in itself is absurd, because I have been walking around in the Park since the 1970’s, but never really payed attention to it, perhaps because it stands in a strange corner of the park, near the entrance to the restaurant. I no longer remember what made me look it up on the internet, but when I saw that it grows in my neighbourhood I decided I would do something with it, as part of the project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable trees. This one surely is remarkable, planted of a seed put in the ground at the time of the declaration of Finnish independence in 1917 and planted on site in the 1930s.
Wikipedia describes the spruce like this (in Finnish).
It is a controversial tree, I suppose, with the strange monument next to it, but it was celebrated in 1967 when lots of small spruces grown from its seeds were distributed around the country, and again during the centennary in 2017.
My first idea was to sit and write letters to it somewhere nearby, as I have done with the spruce on Harakka Island, not so far from there. I knew I could not get the whole spruce in one image, so I considered the possibility of making two versions, one from afar, with the spruce visible between other trees, and another version with me and its lower branches, or something. Only when I finished my Corona Diary, my daily balancing act with the maple in the yard in the house where I live, on the last of May, did I realize what I would do. Rather than write to the Spruce of Independence or hold on to it or what not, I would sinply transpose my balancing act to take place next to the spruce, not necessarily every day, but regularly during the summer or June at least, now when I am in Helsinki anyway. And that is exactly what I did today. Choosing the position of the camera and the framing of the image was not so easy, and I am not very happy with my decision, but it seemed the best solution at least today. The image will look very different when the shadow of the tree falls differently, but that remains to be seen. I chose my position in the shadow based on the circumstances today. What happens next is something else.
Hare are some images from today:
And one from last week (or the week before) when I walked by with my phone:
When returning from my ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency in Johannesburg, earlier than planned due to the covid-19 outbreak and all the restrictions related to it, I had to stay in quarantine at home for 14 days. In the B&B where I stayed there, I performed more or less daily with the huge Irish oak in the yard (see blog post), and even edited a small video of that practice, available here. After a week or so at home I realized I could continue with a similar practice together with the maple tree in the yard here in Helsinki. And I have continued with that, even though my personal quarantine is over. The general restrictions, and the quarantine of the whole Uusimaa region continues, however, and prevents me from going to Stockholm, for instance, if I would like to – and I am not at all sure that I would, right now.
So what is the practice? I stand for a moment with the maple tree, mostly in the mornings, trying to balance on my toes with arms stretched towards the sky, an exercise called becoming a tree, and call it my Corona diary. The diary is archived as still images on the RC here
I have not decided how long I will continue, now that I can meet other trees as well, like the unremarkable pine in Brunnsparken that serves as a kind of pen pal, like the small pine on Hundudden that I miss and cannot meet now, at least not for a while. I also paid a visit the Spruce of Harakka Island, remarkable because it is the only spruce tree on the island, and decided to visit it every now and then. The maple in the yard is perhaps not so interesting in itself, it functions more like a companion for my practice of balancing. But I do like to see its new leaves burst forth with the spring. Perhaps they will make the diary more interesting…
Johannesburg is a city of trees, and the largest manmade forest in the world, they say. (Well, they should see the Finnish spruce-or pine-plantations.) Now, when one week has passed since I arrived here, it is appropriate to report what I have been doing, in terms of meeting trees. During my ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency between 10 February and 10 April I am supposed to work on my project Meetings with remarkable and unremarkable trees. I am spoiled for choice, that is clear; Galway Road in the suburb called Parkview where I am based is lined with the famous Jacaranda trees. I decided to “dig where I stand” (no, not literally) and begin with the nearest tree, the old oak growing in the yard of the bed and breakfast where I stay. It is fenced in here behind protective walls, but reaches out beyond them, and drops its acorns on the tin roof every now and then. The first night I thought somebody was throwing stones. My landlady told me that it is an Irish oak, in all likelihood. The whole area has streets with Irish names, because the man who started building there came from Ireland at the end of 19th century. He also planted Irish oaks on his estate, and this oak is supposed to be one of the “leftovers”, or then a descendant. From the balcony of the house it looks very inviting, and would probably be possible to sit in, at least in theory. But I chose not to try.
My way of performing with the oak is simple; I happened to see a small text in a yoga journal at home before leaving, titled “kuinka sinusta voi tulla puu” (How you can become a tree). It describes an exercise which I wanted to try here. And to do that regularly, ideally every day, it would be easiest to find a place nearby. The exercise is basic: stand with your feet hip-width apart, raise you heels, stretch your arms up, focus your eyes on one spot and stay there – that’s it. For the sake of editing I changed the order slightly: I go to stand next to the oak, stretch my arms up and then raise my heels, and leave my arms up even when I loose my balance and have to take a step forward. Hopefully the duration I am able to stand there will increase over the weeks.
What I did not realise was the fact that my stage is a parking lot; it is empty only during working days when the car that is normally parked there is away. Therefore, no images during the weekend.
Today, 4th of February, the coldest day in Helsinki this year, so far, I finally got a ride with Saara in her buster to get to the island, in order to record the last revisit to the sites of the video series Animal Years, performed weekly on the island during the years 2002-2014. The start was early, Saara would return to the island after taking her girls to school, at 8.45. and that time we were at the shore waiting for her, three older guys, craftsmen working on the island, and me. It was such an easy crossing with a good motorboat compared to my usual manner of rowing – well, usual, when did I row across the last time, several months ago, I guess. My small old boat Korento (a type of dragonfly) was already lying upside down on the cliffs expecting ice, hah! Anyway, it was great to get up early, even though I had to abandon my yoga practice etc. And I waited for the sun to start warming a little before getting out to the shore, closer to noon. The last of the Animal Years that I performed on Harakka was year of the snake (2013-2014), and the site was the aspen tree growing on the site of the old sauna, which later has become a place for making fire safely.
When I came to the island at the end of the 1990’s two aspen trees were growing near the shore and I could fasten my hammock between them. When I chose the place as the last site in my series of performances for camera on the island, only one of them was standing, the other one consisted of a few pieces of distorted trunk on the ground. So, I used a swing rather than a hammock. Now, when revisiting the site six years later, not a trace of the other tree was there any longer, but the first one was still going strong and had a lifebuoy ring hanging from it. I decided not to start playing with the small blue swing – which I still have in my studio – but to sit on the shore where the broken trunk parts used to be. I have a different camera today, with a different lens, so the framing would in any case not be exactly the same. And I did not sit there for long but left the camera to record the view on its own and returned only after twenty minutes to start it again, 21 minutes is the limit it can take at a time. I needed plenty of material, because the original installation version is 36 minutes long. See here.
I walked around the western shores and looked at all the small changes and tried to keep warm. This was the last revisit, and for our “Grande finale” with the HTDTWP (How to do things with performance) project I will make a compilation of them. This was the last visit in the sense of the last recording I have planned and decided to do, for now. I often think that my studio on Harakka is an unnecessary luxury for me these days, when I spend my time in Stockholm or travelling or anywhere else except there. But when I come back here, I always feel like changing my habits and begin to work here properly. And now that could be possible, actually. To add a real celebratory note to this glorious day of sunshine and cold (finally) I had an email bringing me the news that i had received a working grant for my upcoming project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees. I hardly dared believe my eyes, and when I walked on the cliffs, I slowly began to realise that it was true. So, now I could really devote myself to working here, except that the idea with the project is to go out and meet remarkable and unremarkable trees where they happen to grow, which is not necessarily on this island. Anyway, I am happy and grateful and still slightly overwhelmed…
The year 2019 was my third year with trees, and the second year of the artistic research project Performing with Plants at Stockholm University of the Arts Research Centre, as professor of performance, art and theory. Now that is all finished, and I will be writing a proper report of the project soon. Here I am only listing things I have done during the year, some of which are part of the project and others not.
For an idea of the project, see: Performing with Plants – Att uppträda/samarbeta med växter and the blog about my activities in Stockholm, artisticresearchinstockholm. A brief presentation of the project, on the SKH-website, and for more details go to the living archive on the Research catalogue. This project was funded by the Committee for artistic research at the Swedish Research Council and hosted by Stockholm University of the Arts.
During the year I have also been working with the project How to do things with performance? – Miten tehdä asioita esityksellä?, a four-year research project funded by the Academy of Finland, with Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha and Pilvi Porkola. More info about that project on the website of HTDTWP with links to blog and living archive on the RC.
But what was really important during this year? What was special compared to previous years? I cannot really see that clearly, but in some sense these two years in Stockholm have been like a kind of sabbatical, where I have had the chance to focus on my artistic research and writing, but still had a context of discussion to participate in. Sheer luxury! Compared to that general feeling it feels trivial to list all kinds of works and events, but I am doing it anyway, simply to have them noted somewhere.
During the year I organised two seminars in Stockholm:
Working with the Vegetal IV at Stockholm University of the Arts 17 October 2019.
Working with the Vegetal III at Stockholm University of the Arts 4 April 2019.
With HTDTWP we organised two research daysi Helsinki:
Research Day V: Performance of/in/as an institution 1 November 2019, University of the Arts Helsinki Theatre Academy
Research Day IV: Performance and Feminism, 20 March 2019 University of the Arts Helsinki Theatre Academy.
We also created performances, panels or events at conferences:
“The Human in Performance?” Panel presented by How to do things with performance -project at PARSE conference 2019 Human in Gothenburg 13-15 November 2019, see here.
“The Transformative Potential of Performance”, lecture demonstration with Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha and Pilvi Porkola (HTDTWP) at CARPA 6 in Helsinki 28-30 August 2019. See here
“Elastic Connections – Creativity, Resistance, Resilience: A Long Table by the How to Do Things with Performance? research project” at Psi #25 in Calgary 4-7 July 2019, see here
Publishing event of Ruukku #11 How to do things with performance at Publics 23.5.2019, here.
“Long table on productive gaps – How to do things with performance?” with HTDTWP at the 10th SAR International Conference on Artistic Research, Zurich University of the Arts, March 21-23, 2019
In terms of publications I am probably most proud of my first picture book (not a photo book, because it is based on video stills) Att Uppträda med Träd – Performing with Trees. X-position n 6. Stockholms Konstnärliga Högskola 2019.
I am also happy about the special issue of Ruukku Journal we edited together:
How to do things with performance. (eds.) Annette Arlander, Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha and Pilvi Porkola. Ruukku – Studies in Artistic Research Issue 11. 2019.
And of course, in research contexts the important “outputs” are the peer reviewed articles:
“Performing with Trees and the Tide – A Diffractive Reading”, Research in Art Education 3/2019, pp 14-46 here
“Return to the Site of the Year of the Rooster” in Annette Arlander, Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha and Pilvi Porkola (eds.) How to do things with performance, Ruukku – studies in artistic research 11 (2019)
“Performing with Plants – Appearing with Elms and Alder”, in Mika Elo, Lea Kantonen and Petri Kaverma (eds.) Etappeja – Kuvataideakatemian tohtoriohjelma 20 vuotta / Waypoints – The Doctoral Programme at Academy of Fine Arts 20 Years 2019, pp 33-56.
“Resting with Pines in Nida – attempts at performing with plants”, Performance Philosophy vol 4 (2) 2019, pp 452-475, see here
I participated in other publications with so called non-refereed research articles:
“Visiting a Tree” in Mari Mäkiranta & Maiju Loukola (eds.) Voices: Floating Peripheries Conference 2019 – Site and Situation see here
“Performing with a Pine Tree” in Ziegler, Denise (ed.) I Experience as I Experiment – I Experiment as I Experience. Experience and experimentality in artistic work and research. The Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts Helsinki, 2019, 15-26.
“Authentic trees? – Artistic research, non-human collaborators and the documentary” in Quaresma, José (ed.) Research in the Arts. Authenticity, Polymathy and Dissimulation. Lissabon: Museo Archeologico, 83-98.
“Looking at Malla / Steaming Earth” in Jonathan Pitches & David Shearing (eds.) Performance Research Vol 24. No 3: On Mountains. https://doi.org/10.1080/13528165.2019.1624066
“It rains – it thinks – it dances” in Johannes Birringer, Josephine Fenger (Hg./eds.) Tanz der Dinge/Things that dance. Jahrbuch Tanzforschung 2019. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, pp. 187-191.
There were also some publications that came out in 2019, but are listed as published in 2018, such as:
“Performing as a tourist – with trees”. In Terese Longva and Rita Marhaug (eds.) Between Sky and Sea V: Tourist. Bergen: performance Art Bergen and PABLISH 2018, pp. 128-149.
“Breathing and Growth – performing with plants”, Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices Volume 10. Number 2.2018, pp 175-187.
And the same will probably happen this year, too.
What about exhibitions and events?
I had a small solo exhibition on Harakka Island, as usual: Body on the Rocks. Video works in the Telegraph on Harakka Island 10-15 September 2019. See info
And Lichen at Alllinge in Mediaboxi, Gallery Forum Box 19 July – 11 August 2019. See here
My works were shown in some group exhibitions and other events during the year:
Swinging – With a Pine – Hanging as an installation at the exhibition I Experience as I Experiment – I Experiment as I Experience, in Exhibition laboratory, Helsinki 27.11.-11.12.2019. See Invitation info exhibition
Year of the Dog in Lill-Jansskogen (on a spruce stump) and Swinging – Hanging in a Pine Tree as an installation during the Symposium on Artistic Research at Kungliga Musikhögskolan 20.11.2019.see here
Trees in Victoria (Lorne) was shown as installation at Videoforma 7 festival in St Petersburg 9.11.2019.
With a Beech in Djurgården was shown at Stationen 6-13 October 2019, see Samtidigt i Svenshögen
”Day with Malla (text)” was shown at the event Par ici, par là: Artist in residence, organised by Marika Maijala on Harakka Island 27-29 June 2019.
“Windrail II” was part of the exhibition Näkyvä ja näkymätön meri [Visible and Invisible Sea) on Harakka Island 11-20 June 2019.
“Trees in Victoria (Apollo Bay)” and “Trees in Victoria (Lorne)” were shown in Art Fair Suomi 23-26 May 2019.
Sunday with a Pine Was screened at Evolving the Forest conference, Dartington Hall, Devon 19-21 June 2019.
“Necklace of images, late floppy disc period” in the exhibition in Harakka Library, opening 5 May 2019.
“Hanging in a Pine tree or appearing with plants” performance lecture or video essay at Performance Philosophy Research Festival and Conference, Intervention! Intoxication?, Amsterdam 14-17 March 2019.
Video “At Dusk” in “This was the silence I wanted to break in You”, an event organized by students at Stockholm University 18 January 2019.
During the year I participated in many conferences; here is a list of all my presentations, papers and lectures:
Performing with a pine tree, presentation at Kuva Research Days 10.12.2019 at Exhibition Laboratory, Helsinki.
Performing with plants, project presentation at the research seminar of Stockholm University of the Arts 11.12.2019.
Conversation with Kira O’Reilly on “performance with non-human others” in Research Day V: Performance of/in/as an institution 1 November 2019, University of the Arts Helsinki Theatre Academy
“Authentic trees? – Artistic research, non-human collaborators and the documentary”, pre-recorded video presentation in the seminar Research in the Arts. Authenticity, Polymathy and Dissimulation Lissabon: Museo Archeologico 24.10.2019.
Skype lecture for MA students of choreography from Oslo and Helsinki in Kilpisjärvi, 10 October 2019.
”PAR and plants – performing with trees?” in the Performance as Research Working Group at the IFTR conference in Shanghai 8-12 July 2019.
“Moving in a Pine” for “performance-response-extraction – elasticity of artistic research” by the Artistic Research Working Group at PSI #25 in Calgary 4-7 July 2019, see here
“Performing with plants – for a planthroposcene”, presentation at Art in the Anthropocene Conference in the Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin, 7 to 9 June 2019
”Performing with Pines and Spruces”, presentation at the conference Trees in/and/around Literature in the Anthropocene at Universita degli studi di Torino, 21-22 May 2019, see here
”Ethics and artistic research – a material perspective”, seminarium with Doctoral candidates in Stockholm 7 May 2019.
“Maisema, materia ja muutos. Harakan saaren luontokulttuuria dokumentoimassa.” [Landscape, Matter and Change. Documenting the Natureculture of Harakka Island] Talk at the symposium Harakka Island and the Sea 27-28 April 2019.
“Miten tehdä asioita esityksellä -hankkeen kuulumisia – ‘Revisiting’ metodina” [News from the How to do things with performance -project – ‘revisiting as method] At the Spring Day of the Finnish Society for Theatre Research 26 April 2019.
”Artistic research and/as interdisciplinarity”, lecture at Musikhögskolan in Stockholm 16 April 2019.
“What do we mean by artistic research – Some Nordic perspectives on artistic doctorates”, at Per/Forming Futures. Investigating Artistic Doctorates in Dance and Performance Middlesex University, London, April 11th-13th 2019.
“The Rusty Ring Revisited – ecofeminism today?”, presentation at Research Day IV Performance and Feminism, organized by How to Do Things with Performance – project in Helsinki 20 March 2019
Skype lecture with BA-students at Lasalle University, Singapore 12 March 2019.
“The Stockholm Tree Calendar”, presentation at Sensing the City – Salon at Coventry University 4 March 2019.
“The Diversity of Artistic Research”, presentation at Aalto University Department of Media New Media Doctoral seminar with Heidi Tikka 28.2.2019 see here.
“Visiting a Tree”, presentation and installation at Floating Peripheries conference, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi 14-16 January 2019.
“Performing with a Pine tree”, participatory presentation in two parts, Stockholm University of the Arts Research Week 22-25 January 2019.
I have probably forgotten something important, but this is nevertheless quite a lot, I think. So, thank you all for this luxurious (and therefore) productive year!
As a kind of ending for the project Performing with Plants I visited the ancient olive trees in Ulldecona in Catalonia. I got the idea from an article on the internet which caught my attention. It describes the 1700 year old Farga de L’Arion, which i decided to visit. That was easier said than done, but i did reach the tree in the end, together with a group of Spanish tourists. It was possible to enter the privately owned area only on a guided tour. Here below is a picture of the sign by the tree, and then the ancient tree, protected by a fence. There was no way I could perform with the tree, I did not even try. A friendly tourist colleague took two photos of me with the tree, as “evidence”:
I had accepted the situation already before the visit, because i had the opportunity to spend time with other ancient olive trees in two other places in the area, that could be reached on foot and with no people around, at least this time of then year. The first place was the olive grove La Foia de Ulldecona, on Thursday, and there i chose one of the trees (number 968, see image above and here below) and spent a little more time together with it.
The monumental olive trees on the slope by Eremita del Remei near Alcanar I visited on Friday, and there I couod sit and pose with the trees as much as I wanted:
And to end with the only image that I discarded, because its colors did not fit the series, despite the fact that I found a perfect resting place lying on and between two branches looking up at the sky through the foliage, although not distinguishable among the shadows.
The video triptych Swinging – With a Pine – Hanging (15 min 28 sec) is on display in the exhibition I Experience as I Experiment – I Experiment as I Experience curated by Denise Ziegler at the Exhibition Laboratory of The Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki 27.11–11.12.2019. More information about the exhibition here
The work was recorded in Lill-Jansskogen or Little Jan’s Wood in the centre of Stockholm between 16 February 2018 and 3 February 2019, as part of the artistic research project “Att Uppträda med växter – Performing with Plants” in Stockholm University of the Arts. More about the project here.
My text ”Performing with a Pine Tree” is included in the publication edited by Denise Ziegler, I Experience as I Experiment – I Experiment as I Experience. Experience and experimentality in artistic work and research, a kind of alternative exhibition catalogue with texts in English and in Finnish. There I tell more about the work, see the scanned text: performing with a pine tree
And an image where you see a part of Jan Lütjohann’s work, in pine wood…
An uncensored transcript of my notes of a day with a juniper on Utö, including video stills from the first and last sessions:
Utö 3 August 2019 at 7 am
Looking for a Juniper to share the day with I was hopping on the cliff with the “majstång”, the now dried-up midsummer decoration, and found the perfect companion down by the shore, a small, slightly rounded shrub that was clearly distinguished from the carpet-like patches, and with a piece of plain rock next to it. The sun was already high up in the sky, in the north-east, where the wind was blowing from. I placed my camera on a tripod, left it relatively low, so it would be more stable, and went to sit by the juniper. I forgot to put in the microphone cord, I noticed later. I had an impulse to take the small juniper “by the hand”, to hold on to its stem, so I did that, and sat there for a while. And then, as a reminiscence from a previous day with a spruce up in the north, I lay down on the rock and lift my feet up, as to try out a more vegetal mode of being for a moment…
8 am, a second session; now I know what I am doing and feel like relaxing into the day. The wind feels cold – I wonder how the winter storms feel like! This is the warmest time of the year, and I feel like looking for shelter… The juniper grows so low along the cliff exactly to mitigate the effects of the wind. There are some spider webs in between its branches – amazing that the web does not break. Most of the vegetation is low, the mosses and the various forms of lichen cling to the ground; the small ferns are bending in the wind, only the occasional grasses grow a little higher, and they move freely in the wind. – The sun is coming out from behind the clouds and it immediately feels warmer…
9 am, the sun is warming, despite the wind. I took a walk to the southern part of the island – extraordinary and beautiful, flat land with rocks and heather blooming… I came back to sit with the juniper in the wind, and saw the first sailing boat head out from the guest harbour, and then a small motor boat came over from the neighbouring island, across the “strait”. I sat with the juniper and closed my eyes – and lost track of time. Thus, this session was a few minutes longer. And I came down to the bench by the road to make these notes, to have at least partly some shelter from the wind. Now most of the clouds have disappeared and the sky is blue – a great day ahead, it seems…
10 am, the day has only begun, and I have already visited or seen most of the important places on the island – the shop, the cafeteria, the entrance to the military area, the lighthouse, the rubbish storage centre, the museum, the heritage house, the visitors’ harbour, and the hotel and the restaurant, of course. I have not been up in the lighthouse, though. – In the shop I bought myself a tourist cap, as a souvenir and as sun protection. The sun burns my head through my thin hair even if the wind feels cool… so now I am protected. I do not wear the cap while I sit with the juniper, though, it is only for the walks across the island.
11 am. Clouds again, plenty of them, some grey, but most of them light and fluffy. I noticed the moss was torn next to the juniper where I sit. How little is needed to disturb and destroy! The moss is dry, and breaks easily, even if I try to be light and careful. But, of course I am huge and heavy, clumsy, too. This time I walked to the small church or chapel between the sessions, and went up to the hill on the eastern side – there, too, is a sign warning of military area. I did not see any grave yard, there is supposed to be one, and I assumed it would be near the chapel, but never mind. I should relax and focus on the juniper instead of running around like a nervous tourist. But, I am a nervous tourist, after all…
Noon, the sun is almost warm, people are out on the small lane that passes the harbour. I found the graveyard finally, it is in the middle of the island, small and pretty. And past it a path leads to the southern shore, which looked lovely and peaceful – but then I noticed the remains of a bunker on the shore. Human activity, at its worst, is present everywhere. But the “basic” quality of the landscape is fascinating, regardless… I looked at the graves and wondered if this would be a good place to rest – but then I would have to spend ten or twenty years here, first, to motivate the choice of resting place. And that could be a nice way to retire, why not. But how to find a small cabin that would be free to rent (or buy) in this place – that would be quite a challenge. Perhaps one day with a juniper is enough – or then another day some other time, to begin with…
1 pm, the light is strong, now coming from the right, south, when I sit with the juniper, facing east (I suppose). For some reason lying on my back with feet up is not especially comfortable. On the contrary, it feels like I have to strain my muscles to keep the position, and I am slightly irritated that I did not check which way would have been best visually. But I am really happy with the place I chose, and also the juniper that somehow “volunteered” to be my partner. Well, to be honest, I did not ask for its consent, nor did I wait for its reaction or for any sign from it that I could feel or imagine. But I take the sudden impulse to take hold of its stem as a sign of sorts… and when I sit there I do not sense any hostility from its side, nor any particular affection either, I must say… But what can you expect from a juniper? Not being stingy or grumpy is already a lot, I think…
2 pm, afternoon, warm and relaxed atmosphere, after lunch -feeling all over the place, or so it seems. The lunch at the hotel was nice and simple – fish soup and pancakes – and I feel like an intern in a hospital or school or whatever, with a fixed routine. Before sitting with the juniper, I took a look at the lichen around me, and there were plenty of variety – yellow, white, grey, greenish, black… from small almost imperceptible “stains” on the rock to big leaves, dry and brittle moving in the wind. As so often happens, everything else around it, not the juniper, becomes very interesting. And there are so many other junipers as well, probably relations to my friend, which nevertheless seems rather old. I saw some really old ones – I assume because of the size of their stems – in the middle of the island, but even they were relatively low and sturdy – of course. I am past half way in my endeavour now, I guess. If I will continue until 9 pm, this was the “middle session”, and why wouldn’t I? What else would be more important, here now, today…
3 pm, windy… It seems like the wind stays the same, but sometimes it simply feels stronger. Now I found the path to the southwestern tip of the island – magic! There was a weird sculpture with a fallen cross and a star, but also a lot of bunkers or underground constructions that I did not enter… The view from the tip was amazing, with open sea everywhere, with only small rocks here and there. That area would be my favourite, if I would come here for a longer time. There was an enormous boulder, and a bench attached to it’s eastern side, as if made for a morning meditation. There was also a small cabin, almost like an ice-cream “kiosk”, but very much abandoned. I wonder what it had been. Now there was a small colour study on one of its walls… The boulder and the bench would be enough, something nice could be done there… or then on the road that runs through the area. I almost felt like dragging some toy on wheels behind me on the path…
4 pm, the sun no longer warms as much as before; the wind feels more chilly, it has turned from north-east to north, or north to north-west, slightly. I can see my shadow now on the rocks, but probably the camera will not. At some point the camera’s shadow might become visible in the image; that would be stupid. But, there is nothing I can do about that now. I hope the wind will not grow too strong, overturning the tripod. I wonder why the juniper does not have any berries – there were junipers on the rocks with plenty of berries on the other side. Perhaps it is a male, despite its form? Or then berries is not a luxury you can afford every year. If I remember correctly, it takes two years for juniper berries to ripen, the first year they are green, and blue only the following year. A little further up, where I am sitting now, the junipers on the rocks have green berries… hm…
5 pm, yes, the wind is increasing, now it is 9 m/s according to the weather report on my phone, and will be strong until 8 pm or more. This is not a strong wind for the outer archipelago, of course, but I am concerned about my camera. The tripod is quite robust, but to be on the safe side I picked a rather heavy (1-2 kg) rock and placed it in my camera bag, hanging from the tripod near the ground, to put the centre of weight as low as possible. The microphone with its wind protection is almost like a small sail, catching the wind, but hopefully the rock in the bag will outweigh that… there are four more sessions to go, and then I am done…
6 pm, wind, wind, wind! I found a spot on the cliffs with a little protection to write, but the wind gets everywhere… it is afternoon, still, the sun is high, but the evening is approaching, the shadows grow. The boat from Nagu arrived with new people, walking around, looking confused. After one day on the island I feel almost at home. But I am tired of this repetition, I have to admit. – It is nothing against you, dear juniper, I really appreciate your hospitality and patience, but I am tired of this wind, which gets into my bones. I wonder how you manage to get used to it, or do you? Without some kind of habituation, you would not survive, I suppose. And of course, with a different sense of time there might be more variation, with the wind blowing one day from the north and then next week from the south west and so on… I still admire your patience, I must say!
7 pm, wind, wind, wind! I guess I could stop here, because I started at 7 am, but there is a lot of light, so why stop now? Two more sessions, ideally. – I guess I am going to remember you as my silent companion, dear juniper. I hope you look good in the images, that we look good together. Now it is time for dinner, and rest assured that I will remember you while eating. I know everything I eat, every single item, is somehow originally produced by you or other types of vegetation that has made this world habitable for all other creatures, well, at least animals. Being able to capture the energy of the sun into something other creatures can digest is a marvellous skill, so congratulations for that, and thank you!
8 pm, evening shadows. Now the wind is so chilly that I came indoors to write these notes. The camera shadow is visible in the image, I’m afraid. But perhaps that’s ok, actually, revealing the technology at the end. This was not the end, but the next to last session. The shadow will be even longer one hour from now… It is funny to feel so cold when this is the warmest time of the year. You are standing or sitting out there on the cliff in the wind not only through the night but through the whole winter. And unlike many grasses you do not wither, nor do you shed your leaves like alders, ashes and rowans, for instance, but keep your needles green. That is quite amazing, really. But animals have their furs, too. So, something of a thermostat takes care that you don’t freeze completely, I suppose. And there on the rock you cannot really hide in the ground or under a snow cover either… Well, I just have to face it, I don’t understand how you do it…
9 pm, the last session. The sun is still up, but partly behind the clouds; the long shadows almost disappear. Now I’m shivering when sitting next to you, trying to breathe slowly. This is the end of our day together, and I have to admit that I am relieved that it is now over. I will hope all the best for you and wish you the best of luck for the coming winter and the years to come. And I do hope that I did not disturb you too much. I noticed the spider web that survived the wind all afternoon was now gone. There is always a point when enough is enough and it is hard to know in advance. My point for calling it a day has come now. For you there might be many, many years more to come – at least I hope so. Goodbye for now!
The following morning, 9 am, I went to visit the juniper for a last time – without the witnessing camera – just to say goodbye. I noticed with delight that a new spider web was already in place to compensate for the one torn by the wind yesterday. I had an impulse to take a tiny branch of the juniper and see if I could make it grow at home. I tried to break it carefully, but managed to create a long white wound in the bark, and suddenly realized I was behaving like a lunatic, hurting my friend due to my misplaced possessiveness. Deeply ashamed I pressed the small twig into the moss and hoped that it might develop some roots there, and left quickly. – Relationships with anything have never been my forte…